Make Room on the Menu for these Seasonal Stars
Aah ... spring, a feeling of newness and rebirth in the air as we emerge from our cozy cocoons, maybe just a bit more padded out from a long spell of comfort-packed meals. Is it time to bid farewell to the savory vegetable stews and elegant platters of roasted root veggies? Yes, and no. According to Kathy Means, vice president of Industry Relations for the Produce Manufacturing Association, while the beauty of the distribution system makes most produce available year round, there’s no need to eliminate anything, but simply change it up.
“It’s more about how you prepare and serve it, made with a lighter hand for a different, fresher look,” says Means.
That said, there are compelling reasons to focus on some stars of the season. Cost effectiveness, for one, as prices are lowest during a vegetable’s peak growing period. Also important is the opportunity to highlight your seasonal buys on the menu. In addition, the chance to ramp up the produce quotient in a one-dish meal with grains and proteins is particularly strong during the warmer months, and pares down the per plate cost.
Freshen up your menu with these prime picks
The resurgence of salads is a welcome sign of spring, and the multi-talented arugula makes a peppery main attraction. Create a classic Italian salad with raw leaves tossed in olive oil, lemon juice, shaved Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper; make a sweet and savory cantaloupe, prosciutto and arugula salad or a beet and berry salad topped with blueberries and slivered almonds; go greener with the fresh crunch of peas or more colorful with red peppers and tomatoes. But you’re just getting started with this versatile leaf … it also works as a pesto base, sprinkled in pasta or atop pizza, and plays well with citrus, roasted beets, pears, pine nuts, olives and robust cheeses.
“While you can find these all year, the appearance of local strawberries really heralds the season,” says Means. Start thinking of them for Mother’s Day shortcakes and cheesecakes, cobblers and compotes, jams and gelatos. For an al fresco delight, add strawberries to a shrimp ceviche with fresh vegetables, citrus juices and cilantro, or make strawberry spring rolls with vermicelli noodles, tofu and an almond dipping sauce. Even bolder: top frozen yogurt with a combination of fresh strawberries and a drizzle of balsamic reduction for an amazing burst of flavor.
For sheer color appeal, pepper your dishes with the bright reds, greens and yellows of the baby bells or their larger-sized parents. Braise up some reds, mix in julienned zucchini squash, with some chopped fresh basil for a peerless summer salad. Pickle the peppers, stuff them with goat cheese or puree them with garbanzo beans and tahini for a flavored hummus appetizer.
Like its crunchy cousin cauliflower, broccoli can be transformed by ricing and used virtually everywhere – over salads, in sauces and sandwiches. “Try it out in a classic spring dish like pasta primavera, and see what happens!” advises Means.
Additional sources: New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, Specialty Produce, Produce for Better Health Foundation